1 Mar 2024

Antarctic Expedition. Part 11. The final days.

Following on from our trip to Carcass Island we headed, after lunch on board, to Sanders Islands w where we'd be going ashore to view breeding Black-browed Albatross and our final penguin species - Southern Rockhopper. What a brilliant place - as well as the Southern Rockhopper and Albatross there were a few pairs of King Penguins (including some with very small young peering out from their 'pouches' above the parents feet), Gentoo's and Magellanics.

Spot the King Penguin chick

King Penguins have a vertical pouch or brood patch above their feet. The egg is incubated in this pouch which is also used to keep the newly hatched young warm and safe until they are old enough to be left unattended. These pouches can be seen in the two birds photographed below.

Many of the Gentoo's were feeding well grown chicks in contrast to the very young King Penguin chicks we saw. It was comical watching young Gentoo's running after their parents trying to get the mto regurgitate more food when clearly the adults crops were empty! 

The main attraction though were the nesting Southern Rockhopper Penguins. Our seventh and final penguin species of the trip. They didn't disappoint and after pending time at the colony we made our way down to the beach where a 'penguin highway' was being used by the Rockhoppers to the colony from the sea.

A quick visit to the museum and gift shop on the island and were were heading back to the Plancius earlier than expected as the bridge had reported the swell was increasing and was getting close to the operating limits of the zodiacs. However next day was promised to be even more exciting as Eduardo and the team gave us the usual evening briefing and a resume of the day before dinner. We were heading for New Island South and the picturesque Coffins Harbour

I was up on the bridge at the slightly later time of 6 am but went back to the lounge to get a hot brew only to find Nicole and Angelica had found a pod of seven Fin Whales whilst I was below! Fantastic views as they worked their way around the ship and out to sea. 

Boarding the zodiacs we made our way ashore and threaded our way up the hill side to one of two viewpoints where we had fantastic views of both nesting Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguins. It was simply stunning and it was hard to take it all in. There were literally birds everywhere. 

The penguins and albatross were in mixed colonies and it was weird seeing Rockhoppers sat on empty albatross nests. The whole place was a cacaphony of noise with he penguins being their usual belligerent selves, the albatross clling and displaying along with Blue-eyed (Imperial) shags grunting and the strident call of Dolphin Gulls looking for an easy meal.

One aboard the Plancius we realised, with lots of sadness that our time on board was coming to an end. or the next two days we were at sea again before arriving in Ushuaia and disembarking. The journey to the Falklands didn't bring any new species of bird or cetacean but I was lucky enough to get some good photos of breaching Peal's Dolphin alongside the boat.

I also found my 1st juvenile Black-browed Albatross of the trip - a bird that threw me for a few seconds as I hadn't seen one in that plumage before and Great Shearwater were common on this final leg of our voyage.
juv Black-browed Albatross

We arrived in Ushuaia on a beautiful sunny but cold morning with snow all around us on the surrounding hills. After breakfast it was time to say our goodbyes to other passengers and the crew and guides.  I'd arranged to stay an extra night in Ushuaia and after saying my farewells I dropped my bags off at my hotel and went off birding. The heavy snow seemed to have moved some birds from the higher slopes to the town and I found a small party of five Austral Negrito.

I heard that Andean Condor had recently been seen above the snowy peaks behind the town so I staked it out and was rewarded with five of these huge raptors as well as my best views of Chimanga Caracara.

It had been a fantastic trip and  I ended up with 86 lifers out of 135 species seen in total - this included seven species of penguin and six species of albatross (five lifers), eight species of cetacean and four pinipeds. In total we travelled 5,850 km on the Plancius! Although sad to be leaving I was ready for home so departed for Buenos Aries where, unbelievably, I ended up on the same flight back to the UK as fellow Hilbre Bird Observatory member Mr Alan Conlin who Id last sen in Ushuaia three weeks previously! 

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